By Nailah Russell
Well folks, I’m here! I’m settled, I don’t get lost as often and I can already hear 38% percent of the words in my head in an Australian accent.
Ok…let’s back up. It’s been a minute since you guys last heard from me and quite a bit has happened.
My first night in Australia was…exhausting. But what else is expected after almost 20+ hours of traveling?
When we got here, they told us to stay up at least until 8 p.m. That way, we could avoid being wide awake at 4 a.m. Unfortunately, that was still happening to some people for about a week. Sydney’s time is 14 hours ahead of EST. So adjustment was no joke!
The program technically started on Wednesday, August 23, but that was mainly orientation. Classes didn’t actually start until Tuesday, and we got Monday off to go to our internships and figure out our schedules for the rest of the semester.
The Saturday of that week, we went to Barangaroo Reserve to attend an Aboriginal Cultural Workshop. Here we learned extensively about Aboriginal culture and history – much of it including the trauma that the people underwent during colonization.
For those of you know me, you probably know that I’m a huge proponent of indigenous rights. One of the reasons that I chose to study in Australia was that I was interested in learning more about Aboriginal culture, history and the progression of their human rights. So, to hear about it in such detail was incredibly humbling and a peak of my academic career.
There is something indescribable about listening to someone else’s history and how it has impacted them in their daily lives. Australia’s history of racism is quite recent, and unfortunately Aboriginal people still face rampant discrimination. In spite of that, I’ve met so many non-indigenous individuals who are dedicated to the truth and moving the country forward to ensure equality.
As a matter of fact, Australian citizens are gearing up to vote for marriage equality. “Vote YES” ads and rainbow flags decorate the city. It really is amazing to observe a country’s social change as a visitor.
Talking to the citizens is especially interesting because I’ve found so many people that are passionate about progressive social change.
Mindsets like these have been especially apparent at my internship site.
I intern at a nonprofit called Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS). The function of the organization commissions lawyers to represent and provide legal advice to refugees and people seeking asylum.
They also file complaints to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) because, unfortunately, Australia has appalling immigration policies.
When refugees attempt to come here from countries in the South Pacific by boat, they are captured and detained in offshore prisons with countless human rights violations. Being able to work at such an organization is a great opportunity to make positive change.
Most of my tasks consist of calling clients and answering phones, (which was daunting at first) and handling files. Though, recently, I’ve been working on some neat tasks.
Currently, I’m doing research to substantiate client claims. Another lawyer had me help him go through the legal statement on one of the refugees and piece together his story to go before Australian Immigration.
I’m hoping to help them in the near future put together complaints for the UNHCR.
All of the people at RACS have been incredibly helpful and kind, and I absolutely love hearing their passion to improve conditions for refugees and other people meeting extraordinary disadvantage.
Not only is everyone wonderful, but I’m noticing that the general culture is big on fraternity and -as the Aussies say- mateship. I think I know my coworkers better than most of the other Americans on my program. I’m really happy that I’m getting to make these international connections and friendships. Otherwise, why go abroad?
These friends even checked up on me after my Saturday trip to the Blue Mountains, asking me if I got back safely and how I enjoyed the journey. It was a great feeling.
But now I bet you’re also curious as to how the trip went…It was awesome! We first stopped at Featherdale Wildlife Park where got to meet koalas, cuddly wallabies, friendly wombats, and snuggly kangaroos – I even got to feed a kangaroo that nuzzled my hand every time he chewed (I’m not fangirling at all).
Then, we topped off the trip at the Blue Mountains, which I was super hyped for. We trailed down into one of the many rainforest pockets of the mountain range, hiked up intense stairs that were practically at 90 degree angles, and listened to the Aboriginal “Three Sisters” dreamtime/creation story.
We also learned some neat survival skills. Given the vastness of the range and the density of the forest, getting lost is easy! So, we gave our best “CooWEE!” calls, bouncing our voices off the mountains and stretching our calls for help for miles. A handy skill that also doubles as a dope party trick.
So far, I’m having an absolutely wonderful time here, and I have multiple Hood College offices to thank. But it has come to my attention that more students can make sure they get in on an experience like this because we now have a new study abroad coordinator. Congrats and welcome to our new Hood member! And good luck to our ambitious students who can now make sure they have an ultimate adventure.